For a couple of years I used to live in Manchester and commute to Chester. The 100 mile round trip was a real chore after previously living a short bus ride or even a shorter walk from the office, and the usual long days of a designer had now become very long indeed.
I’ve sat in more traffic jams than I care to remember, wasting hour upon hour staring at a steady stream of crawling tail lights, then something happened that scared the living daylights out of me.
One day I arrived at the office as usual, parked up, turned off the ignition, and then it struck me… I couldn’t remember a single thing about the last hour. I got into the car, then I got out of the car – and could not recall anything about my journey to work. To all intents and purposes I may as well have been asleep at the wheel (something we can probably all relate to).
At that moment I decided to change my work life balance and find a way to ensure I didn’t waste another hour of the time I have left on this planet, whilst reducing my carbon monoxide contribution at the same time.
Soon after, I founded Telling Stories with my wife, Faye – working initially from the attic in our rickety old cottage before moving to our first ‘proper’ office at the Granary around six months later.
The best thing about this office? Well it wasn’t big, it wasn’t even cheap, but it was quite lovely and also just across the road from our little house in Worsley, which is on the outskirts of Manchester.
Believe it or not we could have found far cheaper digs in central Manchester – but then we’d be back to the daily crawl, and that wasn’t part of our brief. So what we spent in additional rent, we saved in time. And in any case, we had our own posh coffee machine so what else do you need?
Fast forward six years and we’ve made another push towards self-sufficiency, although we’re not getting our hands dirty planting homegrown veg in the garden like Tom and Barbara from the The Good Life, we have converted our humble (but relatively large) detached garage into the new home of Telling Stories.
Our short commute around the corner has become a hop, skip and a jump across the back yard.
We’ve wrestled with the usual Grand Designs scenarios along the way, but the proof is in the pudding and after proudly hosting several client visits already – we don’t know whether it’s the fancy coffee or the fancy office that makes them want to hang around for so long.
We realise our approach isn’t for everyone, but we’re sticking to the original blue-print of running a tight ship with a small crew for a select few – hopefully resulting in a good life… by design.
Written by David Thompson | May 2017Close
This week we discovered that one of our clients, Simon Pearson from Jesmonite, died tragically whilst saving his 10 year old daughter’s life on a family holiday in Italy.
This shocking news has completely blind-sided us and has left us devastated.
Devastated for his lovely wife Emma. Devastated for his two young children. Devastated for all his family and friends (and I know Simon had a lot of friends) who will miss him dearly.
I don’t contribute to blogs and I don’t tweet. I’ve been promising to write a thoughts piece on our site for years but nothing has compelled me enough to make the time to write, until now… I would be doing an injustice to not talk about Simon – as he really was one of the best.
We met Simon in November 2013 through an introduction from the Design Council. Our initial pitch lasted nearly three and a half hours, not just because we like to talk, but also because Simon was so passionate and excitable about their company, their products and their potential… let’s just say we all hit it off.
We won the job to refresh their brand but were told in in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t touch Simon’s beloved pink logo with a conical flask icon. He struggled to see how we could improve on it – but of course it was actually his love for the company he was talking about, not the logo itself. We took his attachment as a challenge.
Over the following months we gained Simon’s trust, as we realised the immense possibilities of the Jesmonite brand through our collaboration. Not without a wobble on Simon’s part mind, with him (so we’re told) pacing around his kitchen with head in hands – contemplating what to do and whether to take a big leap of faith.
But that was my experience of Simon, a deep thinker who was bold, creative and forever the optimist, a real ‘glass half full’ kind of guy.
Our conversations were never short or one-sided, they were always open discussions which started out as copy amends or explaining details of their product range that invariably led to music and art or cultural stories from his latest overseas trip.
He was always open to suggestions and completely driven to do the best for Jesmonite. He flew all over the world, had infinite product knowledge, got stuck-in on the shop floor and somewhere between – fitted in the brand management and marketing too.
He checked the details, sourced images and all the other stuff that must have felt mundane compared to wining and dining royalty half way across the globe. He had the rare ability to see the bigger picture and understood and appreciated what brand and design can do to elevate his business. He just ‘got it’.
He was our biggest advocate and for that we will always be eternally grateful. My glass feels a lot less full today and will do for a long time. We will miss him.
The result of our collaborative efforts with Simon and the team at Jesmonite can be seen here.
Written by Faye Thompson | July 2017
If you follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or pop by the site to read our Thoughts or News items from time to time – you may have noticed that we’ve been relatively quiet in our musings over the past 18 months or so. This is not because we’ve taken a nice long break after a successful but equally tough first few years of Telling Stories. It isn’t because we’ve become lazy about talking to the outside world, which is an integral part of our DNA as brand communicators…
And it really isn’t because we have nothing more to say or share, there’s been plenty going on in the world which deserves our two-penneth. We’ve simply been struggling to make the time.
Those of you who know myself and Faye will be aware that we’ve enjoyed and endured a roller coaster period in our personal lives.
Nearly two years ago we began the adoption process – which we soon discovered was a thoroughly intimidating and often painful journey coupled with profound lows and incredible highs.
What I’m about to say will feel very negative, but there is a happy ending so please bear with me.
Imagine being handed a checklist of the things you do and don’t want in a child?
The difficulty/guilt of making decisions based upon physical, mental or socially challenging issues was something we were not readily prepared for. Parents who conceive naturally don’t get to choose whether they’d like a boy or a girl, nevermind the myriad of other options which were presented to us.
This is just scratching the surface.
We attended numerous training days and workshops. Spent many hours completing paperwork. Our whole life stories were put under a microscope. The worst bit? Being subjected to several adoption panel assessments where the great and the good decided our fate. These felt like an interrogation in Room 101. Or worse, people playing God.
The process was exhausting, and for many good reasons I suppose it should be.
The detailed training, questioning and soul-searching all fell into place and our lives changed forever. One whirlwind year later, we were placed with a strong and sassy little girl who was far better prepared for her new life than myself and Faye ever were… She’s perfect. I’m welling up.
And so during the majority of 2016, such a horrid year for many – myself and Faye have been undertaking our toughest but most rewarding project to date – getting to know and love our new Daughter.
It all feels really normal now. So every now and then we need to remind ourselves of how we got here, because in many respects we are now a perfectly ordinary family. Albeit, a family who has been on an extraordinary journey.
So despite our hiatus we’re still Telling Stories – and in a few years, we may even be adding another family member to the Telling Stories team.
Written by David Thompson | June 2017
Everyone has their own take on this thing called branding. Across our industry, the great and the good seek to create their own distilled description and succinctly illuminate what can be quite a complex and muli-layered subject.
Jeff Bezos (Mr Amazon to you and me) describes brand as “…what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Rupert Murdoch (we’re not fans of his, but…) pinpointed the power of personality when he said “For better or for worse, our company is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values.”
Paul Rand simply said “Perception is reality, reality is not reality, it’s only what people think.”
I love the work and graphic impact of Paul Rand – along with the witty way in which he really distilled big ideas down to their most simple, effective and iconic form. I don’t agree with his sentiment that perception is reality though. I mean, it is… but only up to a point. Branding for us is like an equation – perception, plus or minus reality.
Businesses spend time, effort and money to create a positive and perhaps unique idea of who they are. In our work as brand designers, we thrive on creating stories that audiences can feel curious about, enthralled even… but it is always based upon the truth, and here’s why.
A compelling brand will entice customers into experiencing reality, perhaps by walking into a store, talking to a real human, purchasing a product and then enjoying (or not enjoying) said product.
It is at this point in the equation that a customer can decide whether their perception has been enhanced or diminished by the real-world experience of a product or service. In essence, a strong but misleading brand can potentailly accelarate the demise of a company whose offering does not live up to the hype.
The act of branding is an evolving, fluid and never-ending pursuit to find and defend a distinct and hopefully truthful position in the marketplace, which is difficult to distill down into a pithy observation.
So if you’re still trying to get to grips with this thing called branding (and who could blame you) – here’s several more vox pops on the subject: What is your definition of what branding is
Written by David Thompson | May 2017
Social media can be an ugly place. I mean this literally. We share memes and gifs because they make us laugh, not because they’re about to win any beauty contests. A meme can be any idea presented online via a basic text plus image formula, often with anyone who fancies creating their own variant on a joke. Memes work best when everyone gets involved, so the rough and ready, homemade look they employ is not just inevitable but also encouraging to anyone who wants to give it a go – ‘good’ design is not a requirement.
Memes are incredibly popular with regular web users because they’re cheap to make, require no expertise and can spread like wildfire. And for bigger fish who could benefit from looking like the man on the street, they’ve become the perfect disguise.
Gaining our trust is a real incentive to companies tempted to pass themselves off as an “average Joe” online. When we interact with friends and family on social media, our guards are lowered. By taking on a DIY aesthetic, memes avoid the jarring that we feel when social browsing is interrupted by something obviously corporate or with an eye on our wallets. We are much more receptive to ideas we assume to be posted by a friend of a friend, someone like us, to make us think or laugh. L’Oreal have had a large degree of success telling us that we’re worth it, but no amount of encouragement from Cheryl is going to go as far as a good friend telling you that yes, that really is your colour. Our friends have spent years earning our trust. They have a clout that advertisers can only dream of.
There has been a predictably queasy reaction to Facebook’s Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s admission to donating $10K to a group that makes anti-Clinton memes. Although many Facebook users objected to seeing themselves so squarely in the food chain with a Donald Trump supporter group, much of the criticism was aimed at the ‘dishonest’ use of memes rather than his personal political views.
Wealthy people trying to exert influence by pouring money into a chosen media outlet is nothing new. What’s different here is that memes can be severed from their creators with the click of a button. Authors used to rely on a polished looking publisher to lend them credibility. Now homogenous, lo-fi styling allows memes to fly anonymously under the radar while those responsible keep a neutral public profile. Since Palmer Luckey has gone public, many developers have dropped support for Oculus.
The last thing most brands want is to lurk in the shadows like this – they want their identities out there. But that doesn’t mean they can’t also take advantage of our willingness to share online. Last year, Starbucks released a collection of somewhat surreal gifs that can be downloaded and sent to friends, and MTV’s entire “I want my MTV” brand identity encourages two way engagement with audiences. Both looks are much more design savvy than your average meme, but still steer wide of the aspirational imagery that we usually associate with marketing. While their approaches are very much more transparent than Luckey’s (logos abound) the goal is very similar – to spread the word by becoming a part of your social life.
When it’s done well, encouraging consumers to share branded items like gifs gives consumers something to play with – it’s like putting a toy in the cereal packet. Successful designers have always adopted the look that consumers feel most comfortable with, and pseudo-home-made is just one in a long line of trends. This only becomes a problem when the goal is to deliberately mislead – which may not be obvious. There will always be a few people online posing as something they’re not, and a homemade design aesthetic (or doublespeak by design) is another tool in their arsenal.
Written by Alice Worthington | December 2016
With time and tenacity, people have developed evermore sophisticated ways to enable long-distance communication. Smoke signals crossing the plains and whistles reverberating across ravines gave way to modernity – and now a plethora of gadgets and apps keep us connected 24/7.
The steady pace of carefully considered media output has evolved into a maelstrom of opinions, comments and quips – succinctly shooting from the hip in 140 characters or less.
The ability to hastily put our two-penneth out into the ether for all and sundry to enjoy, ignore or recoil from is exhilarating and instantly gratifying for many of us who, until recently – hadn’t previously been afforded the luxury of such an immediate and powerful outlet.
As a species, our ability to adapt to the changing world around us is arguably our most important evolutionary trait. Humans have not been designed to travel at 70mph, and yet (for the most part) millions of us do this on a daily basis. An ability which has been developed over mere decades.
Like the invention of the automobile which was (and still is) a monumental but perilous stage of our industrial progress – we shouldn’t be suprised by the hazards associated with our ability to quickly and anonymously communicate en-mass through the vehicle of social media.
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Written by David Thompson | August 2016
Charles Caleb Colton said “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Umberto Eco said “every story tells a story that has already been told”. Pablo Picasso said “good artists borrow, great artists steal”.
Milli Vanilli did exactly that (they stole voices, in fact), although I don’t think they’ve gone into the history books as great artists, and people who blatantly half-inch your creative ideas probably won’t either.
I wrote about our experience of losing a credentials pitch several months ago in this very section (have a read if you’ve got the time), and the disappointment of putting so much effort into a client that we knew we could make a big difference for, but in the end it wasn’t to be.
Little did I anticipate that the feeling of disappointment would turn to a feeling of injustice though, now that the brand project we missed out on has recently been launched… and ouch, it’s like a poke in the eye.
I know what you’re thinking, this is just another rant from a sore loser, and it is… a rant I mean, but not necessarily from a sore loser. In a way we are winners here; we ended up contributing to the resultant project anyway, without lifting a finger.
That would be an impressive feat if it wasn’t for the fact that said client and the ‘winning’ agency took a large dose of inspiration from a previously launched brand project we had talked them through (as part of our credentials pitch).
Because this is what we do in a creds pitches – we get a handle on a business’s problem and demonstrate how we’ve solved similar-ish problems in order to convince the client of our ability to take on the challenge.
The prospective client was impressed, “I like that” he exclaimed as we showed him the idea and how it worked to communicate a difficult technological solution in a very simple and engaging way (making difficult things look simple is usually very difficult).
He must have liked it an awful lot, because now he’s using it!
Or a big part of it anyway. But actually he’s not using it, he didn’t get it at all. It’s a graphic style that has some relevance to his business, but it isn’t telling their customers anything, it’s not highlighting their strengths, it’s not showing-off their skills, or services, or intelligence, or determination… it’s just there, existing for it’s own sake… blandly, and obviously – a watered down version.
So it’s a very poor interpretation of our original idea, and that’s almost more annoying than being ripped-off. As Pablo suggested, if you’re going to steal – at least do a great job of it.
But what about the designers who ‘created’ the work? I haven’t mentioned them yet, why am I pushing my ire on to the client and letting the designers off the hook?
Well, I know that the client has seen our work, but I don’t know for sure that the designers have – so maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. There are many ways in which similar work can be created, I’m sure we ourselves have unwittingly created work that has a similar idea to something created before. Like Umberto said,“every story tells a story that has already been told”.
Maybe the client suggested the idea without even realising that they had seen it somewhere before, we all do it I suppose.
Perhaps the designers were struggling with a very difficult brief (it was very difficult) and were happy/relieved for the input from the client when it arrived.
This stuff happens in our world. It’s not worth calling our solicitors about, it’s not worth worrying our own clients about, and it’s certainly not worth picking up the phone to the designers either… I guess that they’ll not be feeling much pride about their/our achievements anyway.
I also imagine that in the near future they’ll be rethinking their solution, because it won’t help them solve their problem… If they even know what their problem is.
That was a proper rant actually – I feel better now, thanks.
Written by David Thompson | February 2016
While driving through a street with a friend, each bar we passed was followed by “Remember when…? Yeah, that was rubbish”. The street felt like a graveyard of disappointing nights out. Everything looked great from the outside, but always fell short of the mark. The gulf between fancy furniture and not quite cooked chips was just too wide…
We’d long since found a scruffier street to go out on, and stopped feeling like we had anything to complain about. Had everything just been too sparkly for its own good? Can it really be considered a problem if a brand is “too good” for what’s being sold?
In a perfect world, every company’s branding would be broadcasting what they do well, without fibbing. When branding tells the truth, it helps people find what they like faster and saves companies from the ire of customers who were never really after what was on offer to begin with. “That’s exactly what I’m into” customers would swoon (potentially subconsciously) before falling into the pub of their dreams. Managers would gloat over pages of loving comments on social media as they divvied up the wads of cash tips. For companies and consumers, branding should be the ultimate matchmaking service. But when a brand is punching above its weight, customers are left feeling cheated.
It’s debatable how much of a problem this is for the companies in question. On a busy street where you’re trying to steal foot traffic from your neighbour, being eye catching is always going to help. If you’re not relying on return trade, it could work in your favour. But broken promises annoy people. “This looked great, and it wasn’t” is always going to leave a bad taste in the mouth and you can safely assume those customers won’t be back with friends.
Designers can’t control whether their clients are doing a good job or not, but making an effort to find out about a business, product, service and the people who make it work (the research) should quash the need to make anything up. Being creative is one thing, but being creative with the truth is another – where misleading and inappropriate branding will only lead to problems further down the line. Any designer would find it difficult to create an enticing (and honest) brand when the gospel truth is “we’re super trendy, but you might get Salmonella”.
Branding should reflect the promise and can only be as successful as the business, product or service allows it to be. So when branding aims high, it’s even more important for a product to keep up its end of the relationship.
Written by Alice Worthington | October 2015